nose to the grindstone

That's what it felt like the other week when I took part in an intensive throwing course 
to refine my throwing skills.

Learning to throw (in pottery language that’s working at the wheel) is a bit like learning to drive, teaching hand and feet to carry out separate yet coordinated movements which – with regards to pottery – combine to make a lump of clay behave itself so it can be transformed into whatever shape is intended.

So I took myself off to Oxfordshire to meet up with eight other enthusiasts - or should I say foolhardies -  for 5 days of endurance training with Richard Phethean, a ceramics graduate of Camberwell School of Arts and Fellow of the UK Craft Potters Association.

Jug by Richard Phethean
It’s amazing what 5 days of hard graft under the watchful eye of a master will do for you. We worked from 9-7 every day on what seemed about every shape under the sun – cylinders, mugs, jugs, bowls, plates, pots with lids, even teapots (one of the trickier things to get right).

It was hard work but at the same time absolutely exhilarating. Back at my digs at night I was still firing on all cylinders ;) until the early hours reading and watching videos to consolidate what I’d learnt.

My car boot (I confess I drive a small-booted Mini) full of the fruits of my labour, I returned home a friend richer and ...  a better potter. Another job well done :)))


teddy's new friend

I've had him for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I stuck him in the bathtub though his straw-stuffed belly didn't thank me for it. He was my mascot at uni. In my first little red Renault 4 he proudly had the backseat all to himself. And when I moved to the UK, he came along to become as ex-pat just like myself. Now he sits on the office window cill watching me with his big brown eyes ... Teddy's been with me through thick and thin and has the scars to prove it. 

So you've got the message! I've a soft spot for teddy bears and when a little while ago a fellow crafter was raffling one of her creations, I entered the draw and couldn't believe when I won Maisie and was delighted when Sue, her maker, came to visit to deliver her and stay for an inspiring chat that made the afternoon fly by. 

While I'm fond of teddies, they are Sue's all-consuming passion. She designs them and makes them ... every little detail of them. Being hand-made, they all have their very own distinctive personality. Sue's award-winning creations sell all over the world. Looking at the lovely teds featured on her Teddybuys-Blog, I was more than a little impressed!

So now my vintage Teddy and his friends Steiff-Ted, Roller-Dog and Donkey have Maisie as their new companion. She's really rather special, beautifully made with a sweet little face, deep dark eyes, a cute nose, soft body and fully working joints. 

Maisie will be well looked after.



Watching people work can send you to sleep ... bore you to death ...
or it can quite simply be mesmerising.

I got a dose of the latter a few days ago when I attended a Potter's Master Day where a well known potter dropped in for an eagerly awaited master-class.

If - like me - you hadn't heard of Svend Bayer before, he's actually quite a celebrity in pottery circles known for boldly decorated domestic ware and VERY large garden pots.

Born in 1946 in Uganda to Danish parents, Svend studied at Exeter Uni before working at well-known potteries and travelling in the Far East, Asia and the USA. He now lives and works in Devon UK. 

Svend gets VERY excited about building huge woodfiring kilns - one of his kilns turns to ash 5 tons of wood in a single firing - yet is modest about his own talents, the fact that he's renowned and respected, has exhibited widely and been described as one of the most outstanding throwers of our time.

So there he was - the reluctant Master - with his mobile potter's wheel and some hefty lumps of clay ready to show what throwing big pots is all about. Thanks to my friend Louise making sure we got to the venue early, I secured a front row seat and got my nice new camera out ...

And here's my pictorial record of a master at work and an impressive pot in the making ...

Click for slideshow.  

And boy was that thing HEAVY !!!


anyone for nibbles ?

Making ceramics starts with an idea ... in this case the idea to make bowls, small bowls that stack well (not to be taken for granted with individually thrown pieces). Uniformity of size plus an attractive shape are important starting criteria.

Having got that right and the pots bisque-fired, the next goal is to achieve some form of attractive surface treatment. On this occasion,
 I decided on a multi-coloured fruit theme hand-painted around the outsides of the bowls. A labour
of love - it took me TWO full afternoons to complete just seven bowls! Just as well that the weather was kind so I could work in the garden - in the company of Basti, Polly and Kipps of course :).

Opening the kiln and seeing the finished 'creations' is always a tense moment. Will I like the results? The trouble is that the final products are often very different from the initial vision. There are so many variables at play here that it's hard to be sure that the effects are as planned. Which means that quite often I have to LEARN to like what I've made. Sometimes I do - sometimes I don't. Deluding myself is not an option!

Well, enough said. Here are some more pictures of what I've been talking about. I may use the bowls for nibbles or put them on Folksy. Haven't quite decided yet ...


meet the family

OH NO! There're no future in-laws being introduced here??! 
Of course not! I wouldn't do that to anybody - lol.

Instead I thought you might like to meet some of my fluffy friends starting with ...

Think you can get to the house? You'll have to get past us first!

My two independent and aloof chowchows. They are alert but only bark briefly when they feel there's a threat to all they protect, they aren't attention seekers, won't grovel for affection and - oh joy - don't stink to high heaven when they get wet.

Kipps loooooves the snow
Meet Kipps: He was an only pup without siblings to ever put him in his place. As a result he is headstrong beyond belief! He's also highly intelligent and that combination makes him a challenge to own. He won't be fooled and is not to be trifled with. 

Did I mention his eagle eyes? Kipps spots all that moves on the ground and in the air ... in daylight and at night 
As it happens I am pretty single-minded myself. Which is probably why I have a soft spot for him and protect him from the wrath of others when he's being naughty.

Meet Polly: She's quite different to Kipps. Smaller in build, she came from a large litter and constantly tries to entice Kipps to play - even though she mostly gets a gruff response. She's a darling with a funny face and transient deafness which sets in whenever she does something she shouldn't.

Polly as a pup. She loved sleeping on this step but kept falling off whenever she woke
Chows are known to select their favourites from amongst the family they live with. Polly's favourite is my daughter Zanna. Kipps' favourite is me ... hurray :)))

Polly loves her bed and sleeping with her head on an obliging teddy
Meet Basti: Basti belongs to Zanna. He came to us from an animal sanctuary when he was 3 months old. He's almost 10 1/2 now. On average domestic rabbits live for 7 years. So Basti is doing extremely well. 

Basti: One smart bunny in his home-crocheted bunny-harness
As a veteran he has very specific culinary requirements: he eats his food soaked, carrots and apples grated, spinach defrosted ... in short: he gets whatever he wants whenever he wants. 

In good weather, he spends the day outside in his 2-storey rabbit house complete with his own little garden. He loves it there. He's also fond of wanders in our large garden. As we're not short of hungry foxes around here, Kipps' and Polly's daily task is to guard their little long-eared friend against unwelcome furries looking for their dinner. 

Being house-trained (it is easy to house-train rabbits!!), Basti comes in at night and can hopple around the house freely. Kipps and Polly love that too because with Basti comes all that yummy food and - to their delight - there are plenty of opportunities to steal it and then wait for second helpings!

Heading for the veggie patch with his keeper in tow
I'm here so Basti's safe from the fox


glaze glorious glaze ... or a recipe for disaster ?

A good glaze can make a mediocre pot look great - a bad glaze can ruin an otherwise perfect pot ... that's what my first tutor told me and his words have been ringing in my ears ever since ... Maybe that's why I get worked up when it's time to glaze my pots. Not one for an easy life though, I keep trying out new formulas from basic ingredients. What fun!!?!

I'm into books - so OBVIOUSLY I've got some on the subject.
They are a bit like a chemistry textbooks cum recipe books all in one. 

This time I opted for a cream glaze and a violet one ... I love blue you see - I think because my mum kept dressing me in blue because of my reddish-blond hair ... 

WEELLLLLL ... the cream turned out distinctly speckled
 and the violet ended up a subtle shade of green. Crazy!

The night I fired the test pieces, I dreamt - as I often do - of many a kiln disaster - including that the glazes had exploded off the pots and got plastered over the kiln walls and lid.
Nightmare springs to mind!

Luckily the kiln still looks as clean as the day I got it and the baked glazes are
beginning to grow on me. But I'm still after that violet blue!!!


fish out of water

That's how I've been feeling trying to get to grips with my new camera. My old compact digital had been driving me to despair because it went through batteries like there's no tomorrow. With my new model I will - fingers crossed - soon be taking rather better pictures of my stuff.

Right now though I am being driven up the wall by the operating manual. If only it was written more for morons like myself ..... I take that last comment back, of course ;)

Luckily it gave me an excuse for some nice Bank Holiday excursions here in Kent including to Dungeness which ... if you like pebbles and blot out the 2 nuclear power-stations ... is actually a great place to be.


naming baby

Some very nice friends have been celebrating the arrival of their first baby. Reason enough for me to experiment with some ceramics with baby's name as the theme. Decorations for the nursery, a little name-plate to put on the door ... that sort of thing.

I wished I could make up my mind which one I like best. I will probably give all three in the hope that I will get some candid feedback because I'm thinking of adding them to my online shop.


Oh no! No more bunting!

Well I really can't face making any more bunting ... at least not right now! 

But I still want to make something a bit like bunting which can be hung up in a baby's room. So I scratched my head .... repeatedly .... until I was thinking boats. And here's where that's got me so far .... clay shaped into little trial sailing boats ... well also a few little hearts and a pram for good measure ... with the letters of the new baby's name stamped into the surface. 

Clay needs to dry out thoroughly so it doesn't do nasty things in the kiln ... like explode. So it will be a little while before I can bisque fire the pieces and then glaze and fire them again. 

I'll be showing you the results ... as long as they're presentable  ;-)


140+ m of bunting

140 metres of cloth bunting I made last year. Wasn't that enough?? 

Oh no, I've been asked to make ceramic bunting now ... 
as presents for friends with new babies. So I made my first 2 sets 
for 3 year old Eva and her baby brother Joseph. 

2 little parcels are on their way to France right now. 
Fingers crossed that their mum and dad will like them.


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